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Shoji Ueda: Lines in the Desert

, 2009/12/10

In the work of Shoji Ueda, the dunes of the desert seem like a minimalist theater. The background of the stage is mainly formed by the sky and sand, defined in the black and white tones of the photograph. Sometimes, its just one event: a light cloud crossing the sky. Or sometimes the members of the Ueda family, or some close friends are involved in this theater. But they are often just standing, expressionless, in their surroundings. Sometimes, they are playing music, or participating in a game. They are expressing happiness to be in this landscape and to be all together. And Shoji Ueda, who is not only making photographic pictures but images and creates, before shooting, a poetical world, goes on one way. He wants to establish a harmony between the human and natural elements. His photographs are the various expressions of his personal philosophy but it is a philosophy which cannot be explained in details through words. Shoji Ueda does not want to give any comments about his work. He is correct in taking this stance, for everything is stated in his pictures.

This story originally appeared in Tokion No. 16. (March, 2000) and Ueda penned the following thoughts on his work:

Dunes – The Great Horizontal:

In my youth when I went in search of a subject I said it was best to go to the dunes. The vast hills of sand lying out like a naked woman, are a classic and purified world of sound, sky and sea. Whichever direction one turns there is always a subject waiting to be photographed.

It was just after the war, when I could again go out to the dunes and photograph freely. Before that the sand dunes were a practice area for the military. For a long while when I went to the dunes no one else was there, there was not a single house in those hills of sand, only a shrine by the pond, dedicated to the deity Benten. On one occasion in the midst of the dunes, I was caught in sudden rain and I ran over a hill and through a valley to the shrine. I was wearing a newly purchased, high-fashion shirt with a striped pattern that simply dissolved in the rain, flowing into blue spots. The shirt must have been badly dyed as a result of the shortage of materials at that time in Japan. It was quite an embarrassment waking home in that shirt.

I’ll be 88 years old with the arrival of the year 2000, and I have been taking pictures for 70 years now. I guess you could say the sand dunes have been my stage, but the stage for this new generation will stretch to the far expanses of the universe.  The leaders of this generation are young, and I want to send them encouragement from the bottom of my heart. The best of luck to the new generation.

Shoji Ueda (植田 正治) was born in 1913 in Sakai, Tottori Prefecture (now known as Sakaiminatoshi). From the time he was a third year student in junior high school he dreamt of becoming a photographer. After graduating from the Oriental Photography School in Tokyo, Ueda returned home, opened his own studio and began to gain notoriety within the photographic community as his work (notably Four Studies of Girls) was featured in magazines and exhibitions. In 1949, his works set in sand dunes received critical praise. In 1975, he was awarded the annual prize of the Photographic Society of Japan. In 1978 he received the Cultural Council’s 10th Anniversary Commemorative Award. In 1989 Ueda received a declaration of merit from the Photographic Society of Japan. In 1993 he held a large-scale exhibition in Tokyo and made appearances at several exhibitions both in and out of Japan. On September 23, 1995 the Shoji Ueda Museum of Photography opened in Kishimoto.

Thank You Ueda Shoji (1913 – 2000).

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